Most people who attend high school in the United States have either played, attended or heard about the high school sports. I was a four-year cross country runner, two-year soccer player and two-year track runner. Within these eight seasons of competition, I experienced many positive and negative effects. My cross country coach was fantastic! We often called her “Momma Mame” because of the way she cared for and pushed each of the seventy runners on the team both on the course and in our personal lives. I found community that encouraged and supported me in running and in personal events. We laughed together and hung out on the weekends. We had unique travel experiences where we were able to see colleges and run their courses. We were in shape and learned how to be perseverant, dedicated, encouraging in training. I can without a shadow of a doubt say that I loved running cross country.
However, running was not just a positive experience. As a freshman, I was the number three runner on the team and continued to be one of the top runners throughout my four-years. This led to high expectations that placed unwanted pressure on me from my coach, teammates and parents and myself. One season, the pressure was so high that I would be so stressed before and during meets that my lungs and body would tense to the point that I would struggle to breathe. I would push myself to the point of injury (not just me, but other athletes too). I ignored the needs of my body because of my desire to live up to expectations. It was difficult to keep up academically because of long practices and meets.
I give these two perspectives to show that there are both positive and negative effects of high school sports. High school sports have gone from being ways that students stay active, learn new skills, practice team work and dedication and seek an outlet to being an industry. CNBC posted an article that details how high school sports have transformed from being school and community events to being a market for large companies. In 2012, analysts stated that high school sports was one of the most explosive areas in sports business. ESPN and other sports companies now feature high school sports, multi-million dollar companies pour funds in to build new stadiums and name them. While this can be a way that school systems struggling for funding can still have school sports, there are various negative effects that trickle down. Schools, community and parents place unwanted and unhealthy pressure on student athletes to perform well so that they can receive the funds and publicity from these companies. Students feel pressure to perform perfectly and not freedom to play a sport that they love without scrutiny. Parents and kids choose to specialize in sports at a younger age to prepare them for the “big leagues” of high school. This results in less exposure to various activities, burnout both mentally and physically, injuries (concussions and ACL tears are on the rise – more info here), social isolation (travel teams often have practice 4-7 days a week and require travel with the team on weekends, limiting kids social time away from the team), decreased time dedicated to academics, more focus on sports than academics and limited to no time off and financial burdens. Considering these effects, should companies be able to donate large sums of money and media coverage to high school sports? I’m not sure. After looking at an article on the positive impacts of high school sports and an article about the negatives, there are definitely two sides to this story. Where is the line of emphasizing the positive impacts like fitness, community building, teamwork, perseverance and time management, and minimizing negative effects? Is there a line? Without actively thinking about this, the high school sports industry and the negative impacts will only grow. The time to think about this is now.